Recent business scandals indicate a new type of negative leadership termed exploitative leadership, which is essentially self-interested and treats followers as a means to self-serving ends. Previous studies have revealed that exploitative leadership has a series of negative impacts on employees, such as reducing employees’ organizational commitment and increasing employees’ psychological distress and deviant behaviors. However, it remains unexplored whether employee job well-being would be affected by exploitative leadership. We focus on whether and how exploitative leadership affects employee job well-being.
We conduct a three-wave survey study and obtain data from 218 employees of Internet companies in China. Based on the multi-wave data, we conduct path analyses to test our hypotheses. The results show that exploitative leadership increases employee perception of job demands and decreases employee perception of job resources, which, in turn, reduces employee job well-being. Based on the bootstrapping method, the mediating roles of job demands and job resources are supported. In addition, employee self-efficacy buffers the negative relationship between job demands and employee job well-being and the positive relationship between job resources and employee job well-being. Finally, using the moderated path analysis approach, our hypothesized moderated mediation models show that employee self-efficacy weakens the negative indirect impact of exploitative leadership on employee job well-being via increased job demands and decreased job resources.
This study has several implications for theory and practice: Firstly, it identifies job well-being as an important yet overlooked consequence of exploitative leadership, which can deepen our understanding of the harmful scope of exploitative leadership. Secondly, it reveals that increased job demands and decreased job resources are two key paths through which exploitative leaders affect employee job well-being. Thirdly, it reveals the boundary of the relationship between job characteristics (i.e., demands and resources) and employee job well-being. Practically, given the destructive impact of exploitative leadership on employee job well-being, this study suggests that organizations should try to prevent or avoid exploitative leadership behavior by using some rewards, punishments, or training methods. Moreover, the impact of exploitative leaders on employee job well-being can be alleviated by improving self-efficacy.